Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Habits: Why do you cut the ends off the ham?

Michelle May

Habits - why cut the ends off a ham

Many of our most entrenched habits are a result of unexamined beliefs that drive unwanted behaviors. We may carry out the same habits repeatedly, never questioning why we do what we do. And many people make the mistake of trying to change certain habits without understanding why they are doing them – or even why they want to stop!

It reminds me of a story I heard three or four decades ago. This funny anecdote stuck with me because it represents the power of the messages we internalize without question. I don’t remember it exactly, but here’s here’s the gist of it.

The habit of the ham

Habits - why cut the ends off a hamThere was a favorite family recipe for a holiday ham that had been passed down through the generations. As the mother was making the ham for the umpteenth time, she was teaching her newly married daughter how to make their family’s ham.

She carefully cut both ends off the ham, set it in the pan, and added the secret combination of spices. Her daughter who was taking notes, asked, “Why do you cut off the ends?” Her mother answered, “Because that is how my mother taught me to do it.”

Later, the mother began to wonder why they cut off the ends, so she asked her mother. The grandmother answered, “Because that is how my mother taught me to do it.” The grandmother then wondered too, so she asked her elderly mother. The great grandmother replied, “You don’t need to cut off the ends! I always did that because my old oven was too small for a big pan.”

This little story packs a big lesson: Our unexamined beliefs affect our decisions, and in some cases, drive ineffective results!

Habits and invisible walls

The tricky part is when a habit is so deeply ingrained we don’t recognize there is an underlying belief driving it!

In our Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Program, we call this an “invisible wall.”

Your invisible wall may be a protective mechanism based on a belief, perhaps formed early in your life, that drives your behavior without your awareness.

For example, when I was a child, my athletic, growing brother would eat anything not nailed down. I acquired the belief that if I might want to eat something “special” (say, chips or cookies), I needed to eat them now or they would be gone later. As an adult, logically I knew that was no longer true, but that emotional driver would take over when there was a “special” food in the house!

Changing habits through mindfulness

Mindfulness guides us to notice and become curious about our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. That is the first step to changing habits when we want to.

In my case, I learned to recognize the unexplained fear and sense of urgency to eat certain foods when they were around. Eventually, I traced it back to the disappointment I felt as a child when a favorite “treat” was gone before I got my share. I had learned to get my share first, and continued to carry out the behavior, long after it no longer served a purpose!

I developed a number of different strategies for dealing with this fear of scarcity. Some examples:

  • I remind myself that I am an adult now and can buy more food when I want it.
  • I remember that most foods are plentiful so I don’t need to be afraid of running out.
  • For “special” foods that aren’t readily available, I may decide to set some aside as “mine” and let others in my household know that I just want to be sure a some of it will be around later when I am hungry for it.
  • I tell myself, “It’s just food!” so there is no need to be so attached to it.
  • Sometimes I ask myself if I am lacking pleasure in my life or otherwise experiencing scarcity that I am projecting on to food.

While habits can sometimes feel difficult to break, looking beyond the behaviors to the underlying beliefs can be a big help!

In the comments below, please share a belief you have about food or eating that you’d like to change.

This is an updated version of a previously published article.

Did you like this article? Here are three more that will help:

How to rewire your brain to change your habits

Don’t Like Your Results? Change Your Mindset

You are NOT powerless over food!

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22 thoughts on “Habits: Why do you cut the ends off the ham?”

  1. I’m very aware of and have examined this belief but have not yet been able to move past it:
    I need to eat now because it will be inconvenient to eat later (I’ll be at work, or driving, or in a meeting …)

    1. This reminds me of when I was a little girl and our family was going on a car trip… my mother would “make me” go to the bathroom, even when I insisted I didn’t need to go. She would even run water and tell me how inconvenient it would be to stop to go later. Although it is easier to eat when you’re not hungry than it is to go to the bathroom when you don’t need to, in a way, it is the same thing!

      The key then is to think through how to time your meals and choose the types and amounts of food that match your schedule. See the problem solving section of this article: https://amihungry.com/articles/hunger-doesnt-follow-a-clock/ for ideas.

      Thanks for sharing Becky!

  2. Here’s my newly-examined belief about food: “Wastefulness is wrong, and (at after-dinner cleanup) there’s just this little bit left in the pot. It’s too small to save for a serving, so I’ll avoid waste and eat it.”
    This is one that’s been really difficult for me to break, having learned it from my Great Depression-era grandmother. I’ve found myself taking a deep breath and forcing those small leftovers down even though I know I’m quite full. Because it’s a moral issue for me, it carries tremendous weight– and so will I if I let it continue. So I keep very small storage containers around and save the little bit (it makes a great snack later) or I take the same deep breath and let it go into the sink disposal, vowing to do better next time.

  3. Mindful eating for children. So many children are forced to eat food they don’t like or finish food when they are full. I would like to see people become more educated as to the importance of helping children develop mindful eating habits. I think they are some of the best at being mindful but it is drilled out of them by adults who don’t know how to eat mindfully.

  4. About a week or so ago I came up against a false belief of mine. I was telling myself that I HAD to eat junk food in the car during my road trips, since all I had to eat was food from convenience stores (gas stations) I realized that that just isn’t true- first of all I don’t really have to stop at convenience stores (although they call them convenience stores for a reason) and could do a grocery store/restaurant instead. But often times convenient stores offer salads, boiled eggs, juice etc. Or I could bring my own snacks from home. Utimately it still my choice as to what I want to eat. But I was acting like it I didn’t have a choice.

  5. One of my beliefs is that I am not good enough because I am fat. I feel like a failure in life because I am fat.

    1. That is a painful belief to hold in life, isn’t it? Some people cling to this belief, thinking that it will motivate them to change but it doesn’t. Instead, it just hurts and adds to the triggers for emotional eating. While it is not easy, learning to accept yourself as you are is a good starting point. You might find it helpful to look on the web for body positive and Health at Every Size movements for information and support. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I’m very aware of and have examined this belief but have not yet been able to move past it:
    I need to eat now because it will be inconvenient to eat later (I’ll be at work, or driving, or in a meeting …)

    1. This reminds me of when I was a little girl and our family was going on a car trip… my mother would “make me” go to the bathroom, even when I insisted I didn’t need to go. She would even run water and tell me how inconvenient it would be to stop to go later. Although it is easier to eat when you’re not hungry than it is to go to the bathroom when you don’t need to, in a way, it is the same thing!

      The key then is to think through how to time your meals and choose the types and amounts of food that match your schedule. See the problem solving section of this article: https://amihungry.com/articles/hunger-doesnt-follow-a-clock/ for ideas.

      Thanks for sharing Becky!

  7. Here’s my newly-examined belief about food: “Wastefulness is wrong, and (at after-dinner cleanup) there’s just this little bit left in the pot. It’s too small to save for a serving, so I’ll avoid waste and eat it.”
    This is one that’s been really difficult for me to break, having learned it from my Great Depression-era grandmother. I’ve found myself taking a deep breath and forcing those small leftovers down even though I know I’m quite full. Because it’s a moral issue for me, it carries tremendous weight– and so will I if I let it continue. So I keep very small storage containers around and save the little bit (it makes a great snack later) or I take the same deep breath and let it go into the sink disposal, vowing to do better next time.

  8. One of my beliefs is that I am not good enough because I am fat. I feel like a failure in life because I am fat.

    1. That is a painful belief to hold in life, isn’t it? Some people cling to this belief, thinking that it will motivate them to change but it doesn’t. Instead, it just hurts and adds to the triggers for emotional eating. While it is not easy, learning to accept yourself as you are is a good starting point. You might find it helpful to look on the web for body positive and Health at Every Size movements for information and support. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Mindful eating for children. So many children are forced to eat food they don’t like or finish food when they are full. I would like to see people become more educated as to the importance of helping children develop mindful eating habits. I think they are some of the best at being mindful but it is drilled out of them by adults who don’t know how to eat mindfully.

    1. I agree! We inadvertently train children to ignore their hunger and satiety cues! Parents don’t realize that it is easier learn balanced eating than to relearn instinctive eating.

  10. About a week or so ago I came up against a false belief of mine. I was telling myself that I HAD to eat junk food in the car during my road trips, since all I had to eat was food from convenience stores (gas stations) I realized that that just isn’t true- first of all I don’t really have to stop at convenience stores (although they call them convenience stores for a reason) and could do a grocery store/restaurant instead. But often times convenient stores offer salads, boiled eggs, juice etc. Or I could bring my own snacks from home. Utimately it still my choice as to what I want to eat. But I was acting like it I didn’t have a choice.

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